April 18, 2006

My Dog Sam

Last night's game featured all sorts of interesting things. Tony Batista batted cleanup, Rondell White got a hit, J.C. Romero returned to the Metrodome as the enemy, Carlos Silva once again had trouble keeping the ball on the ground, and the Twins lost to drop below .500. Despite all of that, I'm not going to talk about the Twins today. I'm just not in the mood.

A couple months ago my 6-year-old Boston Terrier, Samantha, started having trouble jumping up on my bed. She had been a Dominique Wilkins-caliber leaper in the past, so seeing her unable to make a safe landing every time was concerning. Then one day she jumped off the bed and squealed as she landed. I didn't think much of it at the time, in part because she's occasionally had some minor knee problems.

However, over the next few weeks she began to walk gingerly around the house and was rarely able to jump up or down from anything. It gradually got worse. Soon she was walking around like a drunk, stumbling over her own feet, bumping into everything in her path, and tipping over seemingly at random. She was no longer even interested in attempting to get up on my bed and when I picked her up and put her there she was deathly afraid of jumping down on her own.

Then one day she started squealing again. Sometimes it happened when she was walking around or trying to climb stairs, but other times it took place when she was simply sitting quietly on the floor. She also stopped eating and drinking, and would stare aimlessly off into space for hours at a time. It was absolutely horrible to watch, as I was overtaken with a mix of helplessness and pity.

My mom and I took her to the vet, who put her on a mix of steroids, pain-killers, and anti-inflammatory medication, with the hope that her injury was perhaps a pinched nerve of some sort that came when she landed awkwardly jumping off the bed. That made her feel better at first, but when we began weaning her off the medication all the symptoms came back.

X-rays were taken, but nothing was found. Meanwhile, her motor skills deteriorated further, her right eye closed up almost completely, a dent in her head formed behind the eye, most of the right side of her face became paralyzed, and the squeals returned. She had some good days when she was in a good mood and able to jump up on a bed without problems, and we bought her a set of "doggy steps" to ease her path down.

But when a 6-year-old dog is limping around the house and squealing that means they are in obvious pain, and that's something that simply can't continue for very long. So, last night we took Sammi to the VCA Animal Hospital in Richfield, where Vet Imaging Services took a CT scan of her scull. What they discovered was a brain tumor, which the vet described afterward as "very big," "growing," and "probably inoperable."

The diagnosis makes sense in hindsight, as it explains both her loss of motor skills and the deterioration of the right side of her head, face, and jaw. What it doesn't explain is the source of her pain that causes the squealing, but the vet hypothesized that perhaps that was due to headaches caused by the growing tumor. Whatever the case, we now know what has caused Sammi to fall apart over these last couple months.

There is a certain part of me that feels silly for caring so much about a dog. After all, I've seen family members go through horrible illnesses in the past and logically that is far worse than going through something similar with an animal. However, there is also a part of me that sees a sick dog as something even worse. People can at least make sense of what they're going through, but all Sammi knows is that she feels like crap every day and suddenly can't do the things she used to.

I'm not sure what the next step is. We're supposed to hear back from a radiologist at the University of Minnesota today, and I'm guessing some sort of a timetable will soon follow. There will certainly be options to pursue, such a chemotherapy or even surgery. However, while I would without question be willing to take on the incredible financial burden that comes with that--the X-rays, CT scan, medication, and vet visits have racked up a huge bill on their own--I don't think it's right to make a dog go through it.

Just a few months ago Sammi was posing with me for a story in Sports Illustrated, taking over the photo shoot when the photographer predictably fell in love with her and later receiving the bulk of the compliments from people who saw the picture (which is shown below). And now I fear her life is coming to an end. It's a shame, because there has never been a nicer, sweeter dog who was less deserving of this fate.

As they say, life ain't fair.

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